Red lipstick is one of the very few makeup products that can transcend time periods and outlast fleeting trends (seriously; it’s been a beauty staple since the Mesopotamian times). It can be worn on its own as a statement, or paired with a smoky eye or colorful eyeliner for a next-level look. Despite its versatility and reliability, though, red lipstick is often relegated to the bottom of our makeup bags, only to be pulled out on special occasions.
But ask any makeup artist—or look at any picture of Taylor Swift—and you’ll see that red lipstick can be worn with virtually any fit or hairstyle, regardless of the day. So if you’re finding yourself in a bit of a rut, we handpicked our favorite red-lip makeup looks to inspire you below, and chatted with a celebrity makeup artist for their top red-lipsticks and tricks.
Meet the Expert
Gregory Arlt is an Emmy-nominated celebrity makeup artist whose work has appeared in music videos, print and digital editorial, and advertising.
Cool-Toned Red Lips
Kelsey Merrit’s ruby-red lip is the very definition of a cool-toned lipstick. The formula has a touch of blue pigments that gives it a “cooler” hue, helping to neutralize the look of ruddiness in your skin and yellowness in your teeth. My fav? R.e.m. On Your Collar Lipstick in Heartbreaker.
If you, like me, have sworn off blue eye makeup with red lipstick for fear of committing an ‘80s beauty crime, then please take this pic of Taylor Swift as proof the combo can be done—and done very well. The key, says Arlt, is easing your way into the look with “just a swipe of eyeliner for a pop of color,” like Swift’s hint of sparkly teal along her black liner.
Old Hollywood Flush
What’s Old Hollywood glam? Xochitl Gomez is Old Hollywood glam, with glossy, brushed-out waves, matte skin, filled-in brows—and, of course, a matte red lip, like L’Oréal Infallible Matte Resistance Liquid Lipstick. The trick to making red lipstick feel less severe against your skin is to blend a matching hue (like a brick-red blush) across your eyelids and cheeks for an enveloping flush, as seen on Gomez.
If you’re more of a Hair Person than a Makeup Person (i.e., you have no problem spending six hours and your entire paycheck to color your hair), then all you need for makeup is a swipe of complementary red lipstick, like Suki Waterhouse’s scarlet lips that perfectly play off her golden-honey balayage.
When wearing bold, bright patterns, like Lucy Hale’s neon-plaid jacket, play around with the finish of your lipstick. A mega-glossy shine can sometimes feel a bit too visually overwhelming, which is why Hale’s matte lipstick works so well here. To recreate, try Rare Beauty Kind Words Matte Lipstick or Nars Powermatte Long-Lasting Lipstick.
Orange-Red Bronzed Looks
For most skin tones, tangerine-red lipsticks are tricky to wear without enhancing the sallow hues in your skin. But on warm, olive-toned skin—like Leona Lewis’ glowing complexion—orange-reds (like Fashion Fair Iconic Lipstick in Ole Orange) help bring out your natural bronze tones, so you can layer on the warm, shimmery eyeshadows and face-framing bronzer without competing with your lipstick.
Soft and Smudgy
Worried about your makeup looking too “severe” when paired with sleek, pulled-back hair, bold brows, and a red lip? Take a page from Emilia Clarke and lean into the imperfect. After swiping on your lipstick (a satin-finish lipstick, like Pat McGrath SatinAllure, works best for this) and letting it set, lightly smudge the upper and lower edges with your clean ring finger for a soft and diffused effect.
Not all red lipsticks need to be in-your-face bold, especially if you’re planning to wear a dramatic smoky eye like Quinta Bronson’s. So if you’re not a fan of bright reds or opaque finishes, go with a gloss-lipstick hybrid, like Chanel Rouge Coco Flash Hydrating Lip Colour, that gives you a wash of red color that’s decidedly easier to wear than a true cream lipstick.
Take a look at all of Hollywood, and you’ll see a common makeup trend: red lips paired with neutral eye makeup—some lashes, maybe a cat eye, sometimes a smoky lid. Yes, throwing two bold colors on your face can be difficult, but not impossible, as proven by Lupita Nyong’o’s violet eyeshadow. Arlt’s tip to making it work? “Match the color on your eyes with the base color of the red lipstick,” he says. “So go for a blue or purple shadow with a blue-based lipstick.” For a good starting combo, try the About Face Matte Fluid Eye Paint in New Karma with the Buxom Full-On Satin Lipstick in Hush Hush.
Clean and Flushed
Sometimes, a bright-red lipstick against natural makeup can leave you looking washed out and tired, especially if you’re working with pale skin and blonde hair, à la Chloë Grace Moretz. Next time you’re feeling blah, swirl a sheer layer of powder blush around your eyes and across your lids (look closely, and you can see it on Moretz) to balance out the color on your face.
A Hint of Gloss
We love a glossy-red lip—but we don’t love how messy it can get throughout the night. So to get Whitney Peak’s shiny finish without the gloopy stickiness, apply your go-to red lipstick, wait for it to set, then dab a clear lip gloss (try Kaja Juicy Glass Lip) on just the center of your lower lip to create the illusion of glass lips.
Sharp Cat Eyes
Florence Pugh proves that angles are your red lip’s best friend by pairing her sharp cat eye and arched brows with a precisely angled Cupid’s bow. Your other best friends in DIYing this look? A super-thin lip brush, and a true-red lipstick. “Fair skins look amazing in a ‘clean’ red like MAC Ruby Woo,” says Arlt, “or in a blue-based red, like Lancôme Drama Matte Rouge Pigalle.”
Warmed-Up Smoky Eyes
“I love a warm-based lipstick on a redhead,” says Arlt. “An orange-red or a brick-red complements nicely with red hair.” That’s not to say you need to veer into full tangerine territory if you’re not a fan. Instead, take a cue from Jessica Chastain and pick a neutral red with just a touch of warmth (try: YSL Rouge Pur Couture in R1 Le Rouge), then keep your eyeshadow in the same tonal family (see: Chastain’s slightly warm, mink-gray shadow).
Sure, red lipstick can make a statement on its own. But if you want your lips to be the focal point of your entire makeup look, go for a drastic contrast with your lip liner, like Flora Coquerel’s black lip liner look. If jet-black liner feels too intense against your skin, or you want to tiptoe into the trend first, experiment with a bordeaux-hued lip liner, like NYX Slim Lip Pencil in Mahogany, that’ll provide a softer—but still bold—contrast.
Two places where matte lipstick will always reign supreme: in the year 2016, and in juxtaposition with a glitzy, high-shine outfit, like Storm Reid’s sequined gown. Just remember to exfoliate your lips first, says Arlt, so your matte lipstick stays smooth and flake-free.
Priyanka Chopra is proof that matchy-matchy makeup can look incredibly elegant and elevated, especially with the right application technique. Not only are Chopra’s hairline and cheeks perfectly sculpted with a brick-toned blush, but her red lipstick is also contoured around the edges with a deep-maroon shade for subtle depth.
In case you missed it, lip art is still very much a thing—it’s just a bit more understated than in previous years. Jedet’s pop art-inspired lips are lined, shaded, and contoured in mahogany lip liner to create a retro comic-book vibe, then topped with clear gloss for a modern, vampy effect.
Red lipstick doesn’t need to take the spotlight in your makeup look. If you want the best of both worlds on the eyes and lips—as seen here with Stephanie Hui’s chromatic graphic eye and red lip—you’ll want to choose a lipstick that’s sheer and muted like Hui’s dusty-rose lips (try Kulfi Heirloom Satin Lipstick), and then pair it with a complementary draped blush. Rather than competing with her statement eye, Hui’s red lip helps tie the look together.
The key to pulling off Elle Fanning’s flushed, wind-whipped makeup is keeping it precise and purposeful. Note how her blush—which matches her scarlet lipstick—is swirled over the high points of her face and chest (i.e., cheeks, bridge of nose, hairline, chin, and collarbones) with precision, while her semi-matte lipstick is clean and sharp. “A precise pencil application is a must,” says Arlt (try: Huda Beauty Lip Contour 2.0, which has a built-in sharpener), and remember that “a red lipstick needs to be babysat throughout the day.”
Classic Crisp Lip
“For warmer skin and olive complexions, I adore using a brick-red, orange-red, or burgundy-red lipstick,” says Arlt (try: Dior Rouge Dior Forever Lipstick in Forever Dior). Just remember that if you’re going to make your lips be the focus of your makeup, à la Tracee Ellis Ross, Arlt recommends using a lip liner to get a crisp red lip. “Line it perfectly along the outer edge of your lip, then fade it into your lips to help stabilize your lipstick for the day,” he says. “If you make a mistake, you can always crisp it up using concealer around the edges, then set with powder.”
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